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1 December 2005

What are your seminal disability arts moments?

Photo of Photo of Johnny Crescendo singing and playing guitar

Johnny Crescendo in performance

What are your favourite pieces of work (in any art form) by disabled artists? What what pieces of work drew your interest in Disability Arts? What works would you like to see remembered or preserved for future generations?

To get the ball rolling we asked a few people what turned them on to disability arts? Many artists have made our movement the thriving, creative melting pot it has become.

Please let us know your own Disability Arts moments by filling in the comments form below.

Sarah Scott on Johnny Crescendo

I remember being struck by the power of Johnny Crescendo singing Choices and Rights at a very early LDAF Workhouse Cabaret.

The words were unusually clear for me to follow. His singing and his strumming meant business. Simple and straight up, the music and the Disability Arts movement was rolling… and I realised it had taken me with it!

Tony Heaton, artist on Adam Reynolds

I remember well the first piece that really resonated, it was a piece by Adam Reynolds entitled Suitcase - a lead suitcase open and filled with autumn leaves. It was placed as you entered the Out of Ourselves exhibition at the Diorama Gallery, London, in February 1990.

I was exhibiting and slightly reticent about exhibiting with other Disabled artists, because I didn't know anyone and I was filled with prejudices about quality! Seeing this piece gave me a sense of confirmation that I was doing the right thing. This was partly because it felt contemporary to the work that I was making or thinking about. It was also a sculpture - my language!

The sculpture was not overtly about Disability Arts but it somehow spoke to me in a very poignant way, about life changes and transience. The use of materials, lead, with its philosophical connotations; its use in buildings and coffins, here crafted into a suitcase opened to reveal red and golden leaves from trees. These were solid bits of nature, yet shedding their leaves, changing. So much thought and potential meanings to ponder. As I got to know Adam and see his work I was always in admiration of the layers and the thought processes that he brought to his art, amid this serious intent there was often playfulness and humour.

Maria Oshodi on Graeae Theatre Company

Photo of Graeae Theatre production

Jenny Sealey, Letty Kaye, Mary Cross performing in Graeae's production of A Private View. Photo: Sheila Burnett

The first thing that comes to mind is Private View by Graeae Theatre Company at the Drill Hall back in 1989. This play involved the relationship between a group of disabled women in an art class led by a non-disabled art tutor. I think - though it was a long time ago now.

I still remember the play's pithiness and humour as it explored body image and representation. It was the first thing I'd witnessed in theatre like this. It left a strong impression on me.

Especially the robbery scene when, for reasons that have faded now, the class undertook to steel a valuable work of art from a gallery and use their impairments as a decoy!

Colin Hambrook on Nancy Willis

Installation by Nancy Willis

Early Days, Holding Promise installation by Nancy Willis

For me it has to be a series of drawings and sculpture of premature babies by Nancy Willis. Nancy is an exceptional painter, printmaker and sculptor, who has been exhibiting at mainstream and Disability Arts events since the mid 1970's. Her installation Early Days, Holding Promise came out of a year long residency at Hammersmith Hospital in the early nineties. It was exhibited as part of the London Disability Arts Forums' How we Like It exhibition at the Diorama Gallery, London.

At the time I was unsure about what disability arts was. When I saw the gentle, powerful detail of Nancy's work and the depth of emotional expression I was completely knocked out. It seemed to me that the premise behind 'disability art' was about expressing things from deep within ourselves, rather than abstract ideas or concepts without a relationship to lived experience.

The work conveys such a reverence for the life force - a sense of mystery and spirituality. It communicates something powerful about the beauty that lies within what is fragile and unformed in nature.

That is the sort of art that grabs me… after that I was hooked on to the idea of disability arts and still can't get enough of it.

See Nancy Willis Gallery on DAO

Kev Towner on Ian Stanton

I was , and still am, a huge Ian Stanton fan!! I was just so blown away by his songs about love, sex, drinking etc. I met Ian Stanton when he did an impromptu performance at a BCODP conference in the early 90's.

I chatted to him in the bar afterwards and he gave me a copy of Freewheelin' on tape. I loved it.